When a longtime customer of Dale's Tire & Retreading Co. Inc. asked Bob Wolf what type of tires ought to fit some specialized trucks he was building for harvesting oranges, it wasn't a question that had a clear-cut answer.
After all, the equipment in question didn't really exist.
Vinc Aulick, president of Aulick Industries in Scottsbluff, wanted tires for trucks specially built to go alongside automated orange-pickers in Florida and carry the baskets that gather the oranges. The tires needed to have good flotation in soft, sandy soil, yet also be able to be serviced locally in Florida if something went wrong. And of course, the tire fitment needed to meet those criteria while still remaining cost-effective.
Mr. Wolf, manager of Dale's Tire's Scottsbluff location, realized he had to think outside the box to satisfy the needs of Mr. Aulick. So he suggested equipping the trucks with retreads instead of new tires-an idea that wasn't off-base since the dealership had, at times, put new tires on the front of some of Mr. Aulick's trucks and retreads on the back.
``We took a look at some new tires at first,'' Mr. Wolf said. ``As we got deeper into the design phase of it, I recommended to Vinc...retreads all the way around on it. That'll cut your costs. It'll give you the flotation that you need, and if they have a problem with one, any Bandag dealer in the U.S. can get a tire for you.''
Mr. Aulick was willing to give the proposal of ``original equipment retreads'' a try on the first four trucks he manufactured. ``We're always real price sensitive because of the market we have to deal with,'' Mr. Aulick said.
The idea worked, and Mr. Aulick now has ordered retreads from Dale's Tire to equip four more trucks instead of new tires. A Bandag Inc. retreader himself, Mr. Wolf said he's optimistic that the dealership could land much more business with Aulick Industries because an automated picker needs at least two attending trucks.
``The citrus industry for years has been heavy in hand labor. They've just now gotten to where they have automated picking machines...,'' Mr. Wolf said.
Mr. Aulick explained that a survey done on the citrus industry projected a potential demand of 1,200 automated orange pickers, which would require 4,800 of his trucks. He said he doubted he would ever see the industry become fully automated during his lifetime, but the potential is there, and retreads are his first preference for the trucks.
Dale's Tire & Retreading, owned by Dale Rovere, is based in Rapid City, S.D., where it operates the retread facility, a wholesale business and a store in addition to its Scottsbluff outlet. Mr. Wolf worked for a cooperative in Scottsbluff that bought medium truck tires and retreads from Dale's Tire, then went to work for Mr. Rovere when he opened a location there in 1999.
In 2002 the Scottsbluff store posted $2.3 million in sales, according to Mr. Wolf. Eighty percent of the outlet's business is from the commercial segment while retail makes up the rest of its sales. Mr. Wolf said the store operates two service trucks and sells Cooper, Bridgestone, Firestone, Michelin and Toyo brands.
A manufacturer of agricultural equipment, Aulick Industries built the customized trucks on the chassis of school buses, which the company strips down to rebuild, Mr. Aulick said. The company manufactures specialized, agricultural-related equipment that is involved in off-road hauling, according to Mr. Aulick, who said his firm posted $9.5 million in sales in 2002.
The firm also builds feed lot trucks, specialty trucks for haygrinders and other special equipment that farmers ``can't go to (truck makers) Kenworth or Peterbilt to buy,'' Mr. Wolf said.
He noted that finding casings for these trucks hasn't been too difficult so far because of the small number of units involved and because of a retread manager at the dealership's Rapid City retread plant who is ``just super.'' Merchants in North and South Dakota also have been able to supply some casings.
However, Mr. Wolf admitted the dealership may need to look beyond its retread shop to find casings if Aulick Industries begins monthly production of four or five of the trucks for orange pickers. The trucks require 425/65/22.5 singles on the front and 385/65/22.5 duals on the back, he said.
Prior to his work for Mr. Aulick's ag trucks, Mr. Wolf, a 30-year tire industry veteran, said that while working for J.W. Brewer Tire Co. a few years ago, he had helped design a precure pivot retread for an irrigation pivot manufacturer. The retread fitted a radial casing for the company's equipment instead of using new tires.
``That's the only time on an OE application that I've been involved in designing something that someone would use on something they were selling new,'' he said, noting that the experience was part of the reason he suggested Mr. Aulick buy retreads for his trucks.
Supplying retreads as OE for some types of equipment does happen occasionally, though it's not a niche that can be quantified, according to a Bandag spokesman. Trucking fleets sometimes order and have retreads installed on new trailers in place of OE tires, but he said Bandag doesn't know how many tire dealers are involved in this business.
``We're happy that there are people who feel we have a quality product that can be used as an OE tire,'' the spokesman said.
Messrs. Wolf and Aulick have had a 16-year business relationship that spans Mr. Wolf's employment with other dealerships. As a result of that trust, Mr. Aulick said he was flexible enough to listen to and try out Mr. Wolf's suggestions for his trucks. Mr. Wolf said that trust especially comes in handy because his marketing area covers a population of 80,000.
``We're a fairly small market. In order to put up the numbers we have, we have to go out and find business that no one else thinks of,'' he said. ``Even though we're out here in the sticks, we're able to solve problems that other businesses turn around and walk away from."